Most musicians don’t start rocking in their parents’ garage or writing songs until they’re in high school, but 12-year-old Aubree Riley, a sixth grader at Morrison Elementary School, is getting a head start.
“She has a raw, unrefined songwriting that’s honest, bright and sometimes heartbreaking,” said Troy Gregorino, booking agent at Donkey Coffee and Espresso, 17 ½ W. Washington St. “When people see or hear about her, they expect her to be an image or a novelty act, but once she starts playing and singing, you realize you’re really watching something special.”
Riley will get another chance to play several of her 35 original songs at Donkey Coffee and Espresso Saturday.
Riley has only been playing guitar for about a year and is self-taught through chord books and experimentation. She also plays percussion in band and sings in the school choir.
“Sometimes I’ll write in class if I get an idea for a song, and put it in my songbook,” Riley said. “The more I write, the more I try and find what sounds best for me.”
Riley said her biggest influence has been John Lennon, and she even has a guitar with his reproduced signature on the body. However, she said she identifies most with Taylor Swift because they both write songs about life.
One of her songs, “Don’t You Know,” is about feeling invisible when you want someone to like you, she said.
“It’s aggravating because you just want them to do something about it — ‘Don’t you know?’ ” Riley said.
Gregorino first discovered the 12-year-old at an open mic night she had shown up late for. Riley grabbed a guitar from one of the performers and had her first audition using a quarter as a pick.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect. In the back of my head I was kind of thinking of something encouraging to say to the kid,” Gregorino said. “But as soon as she started I was just floored … I was dumbfounded.”
She went on to play an open mic and two of her own shows at Donkey Coffee featuring her solo music and she shows little signs of slowing.
“I think one of the things that’s so remarkable about Aubree’s music is it’s not just good for being a kid, it’s good period,” Gregorino said. “Of all the music I come across as a booking manager, hers is some of the best I’ve seen in a long time from anybody. … She’s really humble about it and if this is the beginning from her I’m eager to see what’s next.”